The Awakening

In Columns, Features, Pieces to Peter's Puzzling World by Peter Webster

I am, for reasons I’ll try to explain, anti-authoritarian. You know the bumper sticker, “Question Authority.” Authority offers systems: think, act, dress, eat, live, this way: everything will be OK if you do.

My family offered one authority: follow our directions and you will turn out good. If you don’t, look out!

The thing was, I could see that the family system wasn’t all that hot. What was said and what was done weren’t the same. There were feuds and hurts. I was taught to be honest but I saw lots of dishonesties.

Business deals, tax arrangements, even how people were treated and then talked about afterward didn’t have much to do with honesty. It was pretty easy to decide that those authorities weren’t all that great. A voice inside me said, “Something’s wrong here.”

I got older and found other authorities: out of books, mostly, but also friends. I tried those. The little voice inside said, “Hmm, this isn’t quite right, either,” but at that age, youth, late adolescence, it was very important to belong. I paid more attention to the voices around me than to the one inside me. I tried to follow those directions.

They were like clothes that didn’t fit, but they were supposed to, so I stuffed myself into them. About then I pretty much stopped listening to myself.

After years and years of careening through life I reached the point where it became clear to me: my life wasn’t working. I started waking up. It was a surrender to reality. What I believed I should be doing and how I should be doing it just didn’t work.

I’d rejected one set of outside authorities for another set. The reverse image, only with a 1960s spin. I’d taken on, wholesale, other values than those I’d been raised with and already rejected. But I’d never checked out the new ones in terms of their functionality in my life.

My life was a bloody awful mess. Total wreckage. It was easy to not take responsibility for that—a million different riffs on “if only” were available.

“If only I wasn’t so far in debt, if the job paid more, if only the this that or the other was different.” You know.

Eventually, things evolved. Reality was still reality, however. What became different was that my perceptions of things changed. It was a bloody hard process to go through. I’d hammered my head against a brick wall because everything I chose to believe, what I’d ingested but not digested, required me to get through that particular wall. There was no way I could get through it.

Finally, I gave up and stumbled away from it. The world didn’t end. I wandered—or was led, depending on how you look at it—into 12-step recovery and my wounds began to heal.

There’s no way to describe how difficult it was: I went through periods of being scared stupid, of utter confusion, total dislocation. But even all that was better than crashing my head against that wall. It was as if I could see things I couldn’t before see.

For a while, there was the authority of the book of Alcoholics Anonymous and the experiences of the people in the meetings. I was lucky: the book and the people kept everything in the realm of their experiences and suggestions—it was, well, since nothing else has worked, why not try this?. See how it goes.

There was just enough improvement that I kept it up. It was all based on checking back on my experience: did things get better? Yes: increment by increment.

I gained a home, reunited with my family, and a small income. There were still problems, however.

The 12-step meetings didn’t satisfy my essential loneliness and an ongoing feeling of being incomplete. But I knew I wasn’t going to become whole through someone or something else…. The authority offered by the book and the meetings offered a recycled rap about religion; like if I just turned myself over to God and got spiritual, everything would be cool.

I went to church; I got told a lot about what I should do. Not suggestions, this time, just commands. It was back to not looking to my own life for information about what to do next, instead, just follow a higher authority, because I was, basically, a sinner and couldn’t trust myself. That didn’t ring true.

Therapy, counseling, was the next step.

That was when I started liking myself the way I was and quit assuming I was all wrong. 12-Step Recovery had brought me to an acceptance of the world and of my own responsibilities; counseling took me to self-acceptance. The beginnings of self-acceptance—that part couldn’t come from the outside; it has to be done on the inside.

A couple of things that kept me on track: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and, “if God knows all about you and loves you, why don’t you?”

I can’t love my neighbor, or anyone else, if I don’t love myself. That means eating right, sleeping enough, not poisoning myself with crap, forgiving myself for being human and doing what humans do. For not being perfect.

If God, however one defines God, if God does love me, then God wouldn’t have brought me this far just to say, “Hah-hah, April Fool!”

I’ve been told there’s a contradiction in insisting on self-authority and then talking about God or Creator. The people who say that offer to be authorities for me. Thanks, I’ll trust to find my own authority.

On a daily basis, I check with myself: am I honest about what I’m going? Am I kind to myself and others? Do I try to help myself and others rather than hinder? That brings me to consider responsibility to the rest of creation.

Five hundred years ago, John Donne, the English poet and divine, wrote: “No man is an island, entire of himself.”

That’s the way it works for me.